Develop a Plan of Action for Showing:
Learn strategies for dressage show preparation, such
as knowing the directives and coefficients of the test
and highlighting your horse's best movements.
By Jessie Steiner

One of the aspects I like best about showing dressage is that you get to
demonstrate the connection you have between you and your horse. When
you watch someone put in a great test, it looks effortless, as if horse and
rider are one. The movements flow into one another for a seamless
performance. I use several strategies to help me attain a precise and
accurate test.

Before heading off to a show, study the directive ideas for the tests that you
will be showing. These will help give you an idea of what the judge is looking
for and let you know how the judges would like to see your horse presented.
For example, in the trot lengthening at First Level, the directive ideas are
lengthening of the frame and stride, regularity of trot, balance and
straightness and transitions. So when you are schooling this movement at
home, make sure your horse is really lengthening throughout his body and
not just going faster and flinging his legs. Pay attention to the steps before
and after the lengthening itself since these count as the transitions into and
out of the lengthening.

It's important to know where your coefficient scores are, so you can focus on
those movements. When practicing at home, really work on your transitions
from the collected walk to extended walk back to collected walk. The extended
walk is always a coefficient. If your horse gets tense in extended walk, try leg
yielding him from one leg to the other--just a stride or two in leg yield one way
and then back the other way. This will encourage your horse to reach into
your hands and seek the contact while still remaining active with his hind legs.

Know your horse's strengths and weaknesses within the movements, and how
many points are possible for each. Let's say your horse is a bit weak in his
medium canter but is very precise in his simple changes. Focus on making
your simple changes clear and accurate so you can get the maximum points
for this movement and give yourself a little wiggle room if your medium canter
doesn't go as well as you'd hoped. If your horse has a mistake in a
movement, know where your next "highlight" movement is and really go for it
to make up for the points you may have lost. I keep a running tally going in
my head so I always know where I can pick up points when needed.

Also, don't forget the importance of corners. Corners are a great place to
make a small correction that can make a big difference. You can bend your
horse through the corner if he's getting stiff or give him a half halt to
rebalance him. Take a moment to gather your thoughts before your next
movement. Tests that flow beautifully are those that are ridden every step
and not just from movement to movement. The quality of the preparation
before a movement will determine the quality of the movement itself.

It's inevitable at some point in our show careers to go off course. If you know
your test, hopefully you can quickly figure out where you are and get yourself
back on course without disturbing the flow of your test too much. Familiarize
yourself with the flow of your test and how and where the movements are
scored. Then, if something goes wrong, you will only lose points for the
movement with the mistake and not for the next three movements. For
example, I had a horse that put in a change before C after his canter
pirouette in the Prix St. Georges (I was supposed to remain in counter canter
until C). The judge rang me off course. This gave me the opportunity to do
the pirouette again. As a result, I had the chance to get the flying change in
at C instead of getting a zero for not doing the change.

It sounds simple, but never forget to relax and have fun while riding your test.
I try to take a deep breath and look around a bit once the test is underway.
Take a moment to connect with your horse and give him a scratch on the
neck when you're halting at X. A good rule of thumb is to show a level below
what you are schooling at home. This way you will feel confident that you and
your horse can perform all the movements easily. Enjoy the experience of
showing off your horse. Dressage shows are a great way to check the
progress of your training so show off all that hard work you've been doing,
smile and have fun!

Jessie Steiner has been riding dressage all of her life with her mother, FEI rider/trainer
Betsy Steiner. A U.S. Dressage Federation bronze and silver medalist, Jessie won a team
bronze dressage medal at the North American Young Riders' Championships in 1992.
She has trained and competed successfully through the FEI-levels. For over 12 years
Jessie has served as assistant trainer for Team Steiner.
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